A Bad Rap for GA?

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About a year ago, when everyone thought we'd have an FAA reauthorization bill passed within the fiscal year that it was supposed to be passed in, the Air Transport Association and practically everyone else who flies were in a pitched battle over the user fee issue. The brain trust at ATA came up with an idea to help sway the masses to their flawed logic that private aircraft were somehow to blame for airspace congestion, ground stops, terminal delays and every other scourge of modern air travel. ATA produced a slick little animated video that depicted a gate-crashing bizjet butting in line to take off ahead of long-suffering airliners so its rich occupants could make their tee time. Some airlines played it during their flights. It was offensive and laughable in the extreme, but fortunately ineffective. Airliners are not rich educational environments and the message got about as much attention as the seatbelt demo. And I think the people who had any interest at all in what the cartoon portrayed saw it for what it was: a cheap attempt to ram flawed propaganda into a captive audience.

But you can bet people in the gates at Aspen-Pitkin County Regional Airport were listening on March 15 when the PA system told them the reason they were stuck there was because there were too many private aircraft landing and taking off and all that traffic (about 100 flights) was delaying the arrivals and departures of commercial airliners. As anyone who has ever waited for a delayed flight (and who hasn't) knows, the airport PA system is the oracle of hope, the anonymous bearer of much-anticipated news and something that virtually everyone, particularly those who have languished a couple of hours, pays attention to. Now, there's some truth to what airport staff were booming to every frustrated soul in the airport. It was a busy day, largely because a storm had wiped out travel plans for both commercial and private aircraft travelers the previous day, bringing the snow that makes Aspen so popular (and profitable, should we add?). Then a private plane went off the runway and it took an hour to fish it out of the snow.

Seems to me like everyone was stuck in the same stew with capacity falling short of demand and people just having to wait their turn. What rankles is that airports have always been the middle ground in whatever differences there may have been between commercial and private aviation. In Aspen, of all places, it seems like private aviation is being viewed as a nuisance and something the local authorities are trying to discourage in favor of more airline service. Wonder how that stance is going over at the local Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce meetings, not to mention the real estate board? Airports seem to bring out the worst in people and it sounds like everyone was having a bad day on March 15. But it might be worth a few moments for NBAA and AOPA to get local airport authorities on the phone and remind them that airports are for all aircraft. Because if private aircraft access can be threatened in Aspen, it can happen anywhere.

Comments (6)

Aspen as, I remember is not served by radar, as a result if everyone is going out and out IFR it averages 15 minutes per operation as once you get below 12,000 ft or so, they have to let only one airplane at a time into the air space. I know this is the case in Hayden Colorado (HDN) where I fly into frequently. If it is not great VFR in HDN things can get really backed up. I have been held in HDN frequently if the weather is marginal.

Aspen is located in a very narrow valley and is interesting to get into in the best of times.

Perhaps the new ADS-B system will allow controllers to space the airplanes closer and allow more operations in these types of locations. does anyone know?

I know there are reservations required sometimes in the Colorado mountains. I have been hit with required reservations in Montrose in the past.

Posted by: william Lawson | March 26, 2008 8:15 AM    Report this comment

Aspen has beacon "radar" requiring a transponder to be seen. For reasons not understood, the reservation system was not in use this day. Nearly all aircraft T/O on 33 and land on 15. This makes for some interesting passes between aircraft. Expect a "chatty" TCAS two to four miles off the end of the runway.

Posted by: William Cotton | March 26, 2008 8:01 PM    Report this comment

I have been in to ASE several times in light planes and can not see how the Aspen-Pitkin FBO or Aspen/Snowmass business folks would let any Skyways airlines cast any “BLAME” for delays on GA without severe repercussions. The ASE ramp is filled with heavy GA jets and twins, while the airlines have moved on to larger capacity planes from the ones used 10-15 years ago. The IFR approach into ASE has many restrictions and only one runway with restrictions on rwy 15 departures (due to 12-14K mountains ahead). ASE almost becomes a one way in /one way out, yet handles an average of 122 flights daily. Without radar that becomes a tedious situations for all IFR flights esp. in marginal mountain Wx, and inherently causes delays regardless of the type plane. See AirNav.com for Notams on VFR & IFR operations requirements and airport traffic details. Aircraft operations: avg 122/day * over 12 months, 55% transient general aviation, 31% air taxi 12%, commercial, 1% local GA. It appears that GA operations constitute about 86% of the flight operations there. Again all of us in GA have to overcome the general public’s lack of knowledge of GA and ATC and airport operations to correct this continued blame and abuse of GA over any of the ills by the airlines and our less than understanding FAA – DOT Bureaucracy.

Posted by: James E. Owens, Jr | March 26, 2008 10:15 PM    Report this comment

I'm a Lear 60 Captain and have been to Aspen many times. These people whining about GA being at fault for airline delays need to get a life. If there's an airliner in front of me waiting for takeoff, they get to go out first. The simple fact is, Aspen is a mountain airport and they can only handle a certain amount of takeoffs and landings in a given amount of time.

Posted by: Dan Palmer | March 30, 2008 10:49 PM    Report this comment

Has nothing to do with Aspen, the ATA is making an effort to blame GA for thier problems. As a Captain at a major and a GA pilot, I've even heard management complain about traffic at airports.

But I can't remember the last time I saw a GA airplane at BOS, LGA, EWR, PHL, MIA, ATL, DFW, LAX, etc. And it seems that's where I have the longest waits.

Posted by: John Hyle | April 3, 2008 7:00 AM    Report this comment

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Posted by: Sandra Keil | February 14, 2011 6:26 AM    Report this comment

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